Stanley Donen dead: Director of Hollywood's golden age musicals including Singin' in the Rain and Funny Face dies aged 94
Donen was the last surviving director from Hollywood's golden age, and helmed many of its best musicals
A tweet posted on Saturday said one of Donen’s sons had confirmed his father’s death. Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips called the director “a huge, often neglected talent”.
The 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain starred and was co-directed by Gene Kelly, who starred alongside Frank Sinatra in Donen’s first film, On the Town.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina on 13 April 1924, Donen launched his career at a time when “sound was still fairly a new thing”.
“The reason musicals happened is because of sound,” he told Vanity Fair in 2013. “They could put music in the picture! That’s how it all began.”
According to an interview in 1996, Donen’s partnership with Kelly was a troubled one. While he praised Kelly’s skill as a performer, Donen told the New York Times that he disliked his manner offscreen.
“Gene, as a performer, was among the wonders of the 20th century,” he said. “His agility and his talents at being what he would call a song and dance man were very winning.
“What I didn’t like … was his manner offscreen. He could be difficult with me and everyone else. It was always a complicated collaboration, partly because when we began he was a star and I was in the chorus. Then we became co-choreographers. It wasn’t always the happiest thing.”
Kelly married Donen’s ex-wife, Jeanne Coyne, after the couple divorced, which is believed to have contributed to their fallout. Donen was married four other times, to actress Marion Marshall from 1952-59; to English countess Adelle Beatty from 1960-71; and to actress Yvette Mimieux from 1972-85. He famously had an affair with Elizabeth Taylor, and was “unhappily married” to comedian and actor Elaine May in later years.
Donen was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1998 “in appreciation of a body of work marked by grace, elegance, wit and visual innovation”.
Donen accepted his statuette from Martin Scorsese, then, to the delight of the audience, sang Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek”. The song was first performed by his Royal Wedding star Fred Astaire – from 1935’s Top Hat: “Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak…”